“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven.” – Henry Ward Beecher
Permit me to begin by saying that everything I say from here on is my opinion, not an expert one. I would prefer not to be researched on this subject, but unfortunately, the world that we live in has chosen to mainstream this topic. This week Idaho Governor Brad Little signed House Bill 71, titled the Vulnerable Child Protection Act. The crux of this legislation is a statewide ban on certain gender-affirming care for minors up until the age of seventeen. This gender-affirming care includes but is not limited to administering puberty blockers, hormones, and body-altering surgeries such as mastectomy and vaginal or penoplasty, with only a few exceptions for documented physiological conditions. I am in support of this legislation.
While gender dysphoria is not a new diagnosis, its mainstreaming is relatively new. In the recent documentary, What Is A Woman, by conservative pundit Matt Walsh, UCLA child psychiatrist Dr. Miriam Grossman is asked about the newest phenomena of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria that has seen a social contagion of sorts run through the American adolescent population. Different from the physiological conditions of intersex people or true longstanding diagnoses where a child presents from cognizance with severe gender dysphoria, ROGD is a relatively new phenomenon. It is the expert opinion of Dr. Grossman that the recent emergence of ROGD is a reason for a pause in the application of these irreversible gender-affirming treatments.
Gender-affirming care is not a new topic, but it is a niche topic that has come to the forefront of society in only the last few years. The grandfather of much of the gender theory and ideology we’re currently debating is controversial psychologist and sexologist Dr. John Money. In the mid-1960s, Dr. Money established one of the first gender clinics at Johns Hopkins University. There he performed controversial sex reassignment experiments on children, such as the case of David Reimer, in which he performed sex reassignment on one of two identical twins from birth and noted the developmental differences between him and his brother. Dr. Money would force them to perform sex acts on one another and photograph it. Both David and his twin would die tragically from suicide and drug use in their 30s. This long-term trauma inflicted by gender theorists is precisely what proponents of HB 71 seek to avoid.
As a child of the 1980s, I’m far more familiar with other body dysmorphias that resulted in an epidemic of anorexia and bulimia. During my childhood, conversations about ideal body types and the pencil-thin models we aspired to led many young people, but more specifically girls, to resort to dangerous diet modifications that resulted in severe harm and even death. Many peers succumbed to peer pressure and adopted starvation, binging, and purging practices, despite not actually suffering from diagnosable dysmorphias. No reasonable person would have suggested that the solution to these dangerous practices would be to validate a child’s stated misperceptions of themselves and volunteer to induce vomiting for them. Yet, this is the equivalent of what we do to our children when we validate misperceptions of their biological physiology with gender-affirming care.
Critics of HB 71 have suggested that proponents are somehow calloused or insensitive to the mental well-being of children. They have suggested that children not receiving their prescribed gender-affirming care are doomed to self-harm and suicide. They cite their own studies, which arrive at pre-conceived conclusions, exhibit selection bias and lack good scientific controls. The reality is that this poorly studied field starts with a conclusion and then develops the research to validate its claims.
Opposition to hindering the development of children is the default position. We’ve rarely performed studies regarding body modification like this on children precisely because we don’t use children as guinea pigs. This play to extort proponents into a compromise on children’s health by threatening self-harm is what we’d expect from the subjects and not the scientific community. It’s also one that we’ve seen deployed in the abortion conversation to justify the practice in the name of mental health.
Critics of HB 71 have suggested that examples of patient regret are few and the exception. Proponents have pointed to patients like Chloe Cole, a young woman from California who regularly speaks about her gender transition and de-transition as a teenager and the failure of the system to protect her in adolescence from permanent harm. Though critics suggest that cases like Chloe’s are rare, a quick Google search shows an active Detransition Support group on the internet forum Reddit with forty-six thousand members.
The prefrontal cortex is the section of the brain most responsible for complex human behavior, such as decision-making and personality expression. It does not reach maturity until around the age of twenty-five. This is the same argument many opponents of HB 71 use in defense of things like age limits on alcohol and tobacco use. It’s the argument that they use in defense of things like age limits on firearms purchases. Simultaneously, this argument is ignored in promoting lax policies where they might find benefit, such as lowering the voting age to sixteen or lowering the age of consent for gender-affirming care.
Given the fickle nature of children and the certainty that they will transition through normal stages of development, it is the argument of proponents of HB 71 that given a normal timeline, the majority of children experiencing transient feelings of gender dysphoria will resolve, with rare exceptions. Their position is that an insistence to validate these feelings and then take steps to halt natural development irreversibly is inhumane and borders on abuse. Historically, we agreed as a society that protecting children at all costs was our hill to die on. This is why today supporters of HB 71 celebrate its passage.